Friday, December 21, 2007

"Sinner" Magnet!

     I will return to the theme of obedience (how obedience and intimacy are related), but I had the Lord drop something on me this morning that I had to share.
     I was headed to Luke 15, the story of the Lost Son, because Papa had been speaking to me about how to avoid becoming like the older brother. I was arrested by the Holy Spirit, however, as I read the first two verses of the chapter. I have always known that Jesus was called "the friend of sinners" and was truly a "sinner" magnet, but somehow the contrast between Him and how Christians are perceived by pre-Christians today became more real today than ever before.
     Luke 15:1-2 says, "Now the tax collectors and 'sinners' were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (NIV) As I read these two lines this morning I was struck by how completely different Christians have generally become from Jesus! When was the last time we heard of "sinners" constantly gathering around a Christian to listen to him/her? I live in Colorado Springs, a city so badly divided between churched and unchurched people that it's best not to pray over a meal in a restaurant with your head bowed and where some of the more popular bumper sticker are "Focus on your own damn family!" or a fish symbol with "sushi" for the letters, etc. How ironic that the city with the highest percentage of churched people in Colorado is also the city known among unbelievers as a bad place to live!
     So what happened? I find myself often asking Jesus, "How did those whom you love so much, over whom you and your angels rejoice when they return to you more than over us, become my enemy?" The answer, of course, lies somewhere in the terrible definition that the "church" has given to what it means to be a Christ follower. If being a follower of Jesus means that we merely join a club and take sides, then of course there are those who are "in" and those who are "out." But if to follow Jesus means that we are joined in intimacy with Him and His heart, then we will also become sinner magnets, exuding His love, presence and power so consistently and powerfully that people who don't know Him will want to hang around us. We will earn the right to share our faith by honoring, respecting, caring for people without strings attached, etc. We will trust the Holy Spirit to be the Holy Spirit, and we will overflow with kindness and goodness rather than draw lines in the sand.
     Okay, I am on a roll here, so I will stop. You get the point, I trust. And for me, I am now asking Papa to help me be willing to check and see if those who don't know Him are drawn to me because they know that I genuinely care for them in a way similar to how Jesus cared for "sinner" in His day. A pretty good measuring stick, methinks.
     Let me hear from you on this one, please. We will all benefit from the rest of the story that Papa will give to some of you.

Have a wonder-filled Christmas.

Tom, one of Papa's children.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Stuck on Obedience

     Those (few) of you who read this blog are going to believe that I am stuck on the concept of obedience, and perhaps you are right. I am beginning to believe that this is one of most misunderstood yet crucially important things in the Church. So for the foreseeable future, I will be continuing to write (short!) thoughts on obedience as Abba continues to give them to me.
     Today I first want to recommend another book (surprise!) that is one of the best I have seen on obedience. It's an updated version of an old Andrew Murray classic, originally entitled The School of Obedience. The Bethany House version of this book is entitled A Life of Obedience, and this book is destined to be added to my short list of "must read" books. Following are a couple of quotes from it.
     "The beauty of salvation consists of this, that He brings us back to the life of obedience, through which alone the creature can give the Creator the glory due to Him, or receive the glory of which his Creator desires him to partake." (page 11). In an earlier post (October 24), I noted that some believers seem to think that they have been "saved from having to obey" instead of being saved in order to obey. Murray's statement here addresses that myth.
     "The secret of true obedience, I believe, is a clear and close personal relationship with God. All our attempts to achieve full obedience will fail until we have access to His abiding fellowship. It is God's holy presence, consciously abiding with us, that keeps us from disobeying Him....A life of broken and spasmodic fellowship with God must be healed to make way for a full and healthy life of obedience. The secret of true obedience, then, is the return to close and continual fellowship with God." (pages 32-33). I know none of you are surprised that I would quote this one! Through our intimacy with Him, Jesus lives the obedient life out in us. As I have said before, we live from God, not for God.
     Now here are a few random thoughts on obedience that I may or may not elaborate on in the days ahead.
  • Obedience is essentially the surrender of the control of your life to another person or persons. That's probably why it's so hard for the children of Adam, eh?
  • The obedience God desires flows from our trust in Him and love for Him (see my post for March 19). It is possible, of course, to obey apart from love and trust (fear can motivate us, too), but it is not possible to love and trust someone and not obey them (John 14:15). Think about that one a while!
  • Trust (aka "faith") gives birth to more than obedience, but it most certainly must lead to obedience (see the NIV's rendering of Romans 1:5!).
  • Perhaps one reason we have such a hard time in our culture with obedience is that our culture is based on individualism and was born in rebellion. Hebrew culture, on the other hand, was community/family oriented and had obedience at its root. Hmmm. Much to ponder with this one.
     Okay, enough for now. I hope to write again later this week to catch up some. I have discovered that I need to write in the middle of the week instead of on Mondays because I travel so much!
     I close with this scripture about Abraham (my paraphrase). "Because He trusted Him, Abraham obeyed when he was called (by God) to leave friends and family behind and go to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not even knowing where he was going!" (Hebrews 11:8).
     Abba, may we trust you more and more because of the continuing revelation of your total trustworthiness, goodness and love! Jesus, live out the life of the Obedient One through us!

Tom, the least of Abba's children.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Wigglesworthisms" on Obedience

I was on vacation last week, and I am swamped this week, but I wanted to post one more blog in November. My being pressed for time guarantees that this one will be quite brief (hurrah!).

For this post, I wanted to continue the theme of obedience by introducing you to another book, The Wigglesworth Standard, by Peter Madden. This book is based on a collection of previously unpublished messages by Smith Wigglesworth, and it is priceless for those of us who look to Smith W. as a mentor. Below are a few "Wigglesworthisms" on obedience from the chapter entitled, "Lord, what do you want me to do?"

The place of yieldedness is just where God wants us. People are saying, "I want the Baptism. I want healing. I would like to know of a certainty that I am a child of God." And I see nothing, absolutely nothing in the way except unyieldedness to the plan of God. (p. 54)

The main thing that God wants is obedience. Where you begin yielding and yielding to God, He has a plan for your life... (p. 55)

The baptism of Jesus must bring us to have a single eye for the glory of God; everything else is wasted time and wasted energy. Beloved, we can reach it; it is a high mark, but we can get to it. You ask how? "Lord, what do you want me to do?" (Acts 9:6) That is the plan. It means a perfect surrender to the call of God, and perfect obedience. (p. 60)

A dear young Russian came to England. he did not know the language but learned it quickly and was very much used and blessed of God. As the wonderful manifestations of the power of God were seen, people pressed upon him to know the secret of his power, but he felt it was so secret between him and God that he should not tell it. Bet they pressed so much that he said to them: "First, God called me, and His presence was so precious that I said to God at every call I would obey Him, and I yielded and yielded, and yielded, until I realized that I was simply clothed with another power altogether, and I realized that God took me, tongue, thoughts, and everything, and I was not myself but it was Christ working through me." (pp. 60-61)

Wow! My mentor challenges me today even as I write these words. May God become as precious to us as to that amazing, unknown Russian man whom Smith mentions, so that like him and Smith Wigglesworth, we may truly yield and yield until obedience becomes complete in us!

Stay lost in His love, embraced in His grace,

Tom, the least of Abba's children

Monday, November 5, 2007

More Thoughts on Obedience

    I realized after my last post that I need to be shorter in my posts. That I will attempt to do with this one. And since God has persistently continued to pursue the path of total obedience with me, I thought I would share with you some more discoveries. These are gleaned from my re-reading of Thomas Kelly's thoughts on the subject (see my post for May 22). In a remarkable chapter entitled Holy Obedience, Thomas Kelly writes the following challenging thoughts. Perhaps you will be as moved by them as I.
     Meister Eckhart wrote: "There are plenty to follow our Lord half-way, but not the other half. They will give up possessions, friend and honors, but it touches them too closely to disown themselves." It is just this astonishing life which is willing to follow Him the other half, sincerely to disown itself, this life which intends complete obedience, without any reservations, that I would propose to you in all humility, in all boldness, in all seriousness. I mean this literally, utterly, completely, and I mean it for you and for me--commit your lives in unreserved obedience to Him.
     If you don't realize the revolutionary explosiveness of this proposal you don't understand what I mean. Only now and then comes a man or woman who, like John Woolman or Francis of Assisi, is willing to be utterly obedient, to go the other half, to follow God's faintest whisper. But when such a commitment comes in a human life, God breaks through, miracles are wrought, world-renewing divine forces are released, history changes. (page 52, A Testament of Devotion)
     As I have read these words again and again, I have felt God's challenge to me more than ever. How many times have I told God I want to see His power change the world around me? How many times have I longed for God's people to awaken from their slumber? Yet I must confess that not until recently have I connected absolute obedience with the answer to these longings. Yet, Thomas Kelly is right, isn't He? The world has always been most impacted by those whose lives were most completely submitted to God!
     Do you feel a longing rising in your heart as you read this? I hope so. And may some of us, at least truly discover what Kelly writes about--make it so, Papa God! Do whatever it takes in me! Kelly writes later in the same essay what my heart longs for: "There is a degree of holy and complete obedience and of joyful self-renunciation and of sensitive listening that is breath-taking." (page 53). Abba, take us, all of us, to this level for your glory and for the good of our decaying world!

Broken before Him, crying out to Him.

Tom, the least of Abba's children.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Obedience Is Not A "Four Letter Word"

In my last entry I mentioned Jesus’ total obedience to His Father and the Word. That along with some recent events triggered a deeper-than-ever realization that the Western church at least seems to have lost sight of the absolute importance of obedience. At its core, the joyful journey of following Jesus is one of increasing obedience that grows out of a loving, trusting relationship with God, and we will never enter into what He intends for us apart from a life of increasing obedience. I see in the story of Israel entering the Promised Land a wonderful illustration of the Christian life: the people of God were preparing to enter into new territory in fulfillment of God’s promises to them. Great wonders and miracles are ahead of them. The new territory, however, is unknown to them. They have not passed this way before, so they are told that God must do the leading. Their part was to consecrate themselves (set themselves apart for His purposes).
Allowing God to lead requires obedience. The people of Israel would not have entered the Promised Land without obeying God’s instructions. So although obedience is not a word you hear a lot of in today’s world (Simple Church or otherwise), as you will discover, we cannot enter into the future God has for us apart from our uncompromising obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Many people today don’t even like the word “obey.” But obedience is not a four letter word! Neither is obedience optional and neither is it “legalism.” Therefore, I offer below some corrections to some common myths about obedience, based on an article I originally wrote for a “church newsletter.”

Myth Number One: Obedience is optional for Christians.
Some Christians seem to think that because we are saved by grace through faith, obedience is optional. But we are saved to obey not from having to obey! The first word of the Gospel is repent (turn control of your life completely over to God!), and the first confession of faith in the early church was “Jesus is Lord.” Our culture doesn’t really understand submission to a ruler, but the early Christians knew very well that when they confessed Jesus as Lord, they were committing themselves to a life of uncompromising obedience. And this is reflected clearly in the New Testament. Consider the following few (of many) scriptures (italics mine):
1 Peter 1:2a who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: (NRSV)
Matthew 28:18-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Romans 1:5 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. (Note well here the connection between faith and obeying!)
Romans 15:18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—
Romans 16:26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.
Romans 6:22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.
I think you get the picture. When you received Jesus as your Savior, you also were submitting to Him as Master of your life from that point on.

Myth Number Two: Obedience means just becoming a nice person!
It is true that we are to stop doing the bad stuff and allow the character of Jesus to be formed in us by His Spirit so that we become kind, gracious, really wonderful people! Christlike character is one very important fruit of obedience. But obedience doesn’t stop there. Stepping out and doing good to others is also obedience. When Jesus spoke of His obedience to the Father, He wasn’t talking about being kind, He was referring to His ministry to destroy the works of the devil by setting people free from sin, sickness and bondage! Don’t you suppose it’s the same for us? Many Christians stop at getting sin under control and then live basically self-indulgent lives then wonder why they are so miserable! They are miserable because they are not fulfilling God’s ultimate purpose. God wants us to get out of ourselves and make a difference in our world by following His leading as Heaven invades earth. And since Jesus went about “doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil,” we believe that doing good includes supernatural stuff for us as well. That’s when obedience becomes downright exciting!

Myth Number Three: Obedience means following a bunch of rules.
It’s really important that we refute this myth! Obedience is not at all about following a bunch of rules, it’s about following a person, and there’s a huge difference. If we view obedience as following a set of rules, it leaves us in control—we are deciding what rules to keep, etc. Not only is it impossible to keep all the rules, approaching obedience as rule keeping misses the point of obedience altogether: obedience grows out of yielding control of our lives to the Lord in partnership with the Holy Spirit.
How much better it is to have obedience flow out of our love relationship with Jesus! Notice how the following passages underscore obedience as focused on the person of Jesus.
John 14:15, 21 NRSV 15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” These verses make clear the connection between a loving relationship and obedience. I suggest that it is the primary connection.
Think about this. Love is the highest and most powerful of all motivating forces. What parent would not want obedience from his or her children to be based upon love rather than mere fear? God is no different; He longs for us to love Him enough to trust and obey Him. So if you would grow in obedience, seek to fall deeper and deeper in love with Him. And remember that we love Him because He first loved us (see 1 John 4:19). We obey a person, not a rulebook.

Myth Number Four: Consistent obedience is basically impossible.
The devil really wants you to believe this myth because there is great power to destroy him and his work in obedience! The earlier passages from Romans, however, make it clear that Paul knew that consistent obedience was clearly possible. Consider the following provisions from God that enable us to obey Him.
The Holy Spirit has been given to enable us to obey God. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is given to enable us to obey. 2 Peter 1:3 says “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (See also John 14:16-17, 26). The Holy Spirit helps us to obey in at least three ways.
a. As the Spirit of Truth who lives in us, He leads us into truth and away from the deception that is often a part of disobedience. (John 14:16-17).
b. As Counselor (or Strengthener), He comes alongside of us to encourage and empower us in our quest for obedience.
c. As the One who reminds us (John 14:26), He helps us to remember the words of Jesus that we are to obey.
It’s good to remember at this point that everyone in New Testament times was baptized in the Holy Spirit. The "power from on high" gives power to obey.
Faith also helps to enable obedience. Faith and obedience are used almost interchangeably in the New Testament. A great example of this is in Acts 5:32 “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Part of the connection between faith and obedience is obvious: if we trust someone, we obey him/her. So obedience grows out of faith as well as love. If we trust God more than ourselves, we will obey Him. If you’re struggling with obedience, you may be struggling with trust. Do you trust Him enough to obey Him?
But there is more. It is faith that energizes and enables obedience. Obedience is not possible in our own strength. Only by faith are we able to release the power of the Holy Spirit which enables obedience as mentioned above (see Galatians 3:2-3).
Let me summarize all of this: First, obedience is not a “four-letter word” for the people of God. There is power and purpose in obeying. Neither is obedience optional! Second, we grow in obedience by falling more and more in love with the One who loves us most and by activating the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit through faith. Do you love Him; do you trust Him? Then you will obey Him with increasing consistency as His power works in you. His example of perfect obedience urges us on! Third, does it cost to obey? Absolutely. Is it worth it? Absolutely! 1 Corinthians 2:9 However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— (“if you love Me, you will obey my commandments!”).
Hmmm. Well, I could write more about this, of course, but this will have to do for now. Remember, we love because He first loves us--all that I have written about obedience (especially as it flows from love) will be impossible apart from your continuing experience of God's love (see Ephesians 3:14-21).
Stay lost in His love,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

How (really) to Make Disciples Part 2

     Last time I promised to write a little on how Jesus actually trained His disciples. Again, I am no expert, but I offer a few observations based on Scripture and my knowledge of the Jewish culture of that time.
     Note that Jesus taught the crowds, but He trained the disciples. This alerts us right up front that there's a difference between being taught and being trained. Being trained certainly includes being taught, but it goes far beyond mere instruction and information. So how did Jesus train His disciples?
     First, He trained them in the context of an almost continuous relationship with Him. Last week we noted that in Mark's Gospel (3:13-15) Jesus called the Twelve to be with Him because life-changing training takes place only in the context of relationship. And that's because modeling is an essential part of training people. People learn best when they want to learn something or feel a need to learn something because they see it in another person. They also have the gaps filled in for them in terms of what the "lesson" looks like. For example, the disciples learned about living in a place of peace by watching Jesus' completely peaceful life (sleeping through a storm comes to mind!). They learned about prayer by watching Jesus pray (see Luke 11). They learned about compassion by seeing it flow from Jesus all the time--you get the picture.
     Second, Jesus trained them via OJT (On the Job Training). We see Him using OJT virtually all the time. They learned how to heal the sick and cast out demons by being given authority and power to do so and being sent out (after watching Him do it a lot)--see Matthew 10:5-15 and Luke 9:1-6, etc. They learned how to announce the presence of the Kingdom of God in the same way. Indeed, all the "doing" parts of being a disciple were learned by doing--isn't that amazing! I wonder what that would look like in today's world? I know--do you?
     Third, Jesus trained His disciples via JIT (Just In Time) training. In other words, He trained the disciples as the opportunity arose. We see Him often using an event to dialog with His followers about what they need to learn. Some more notable instances of this in my mind are Jesus answering questions from the disciples about the parables (see Mark 4:1-20 for one example), Peter learning how to walk on water :-), the disciples learning how to cast out stubborn demons (see Mark 9:14-29), and there are many others. Jesus knew that not only do people learn best what they want to learn, they also learn best when the need to learn something is obvious.
     Fourth, even when Jesus taught the disciples, He did so not in lecture format but in dialog format. Jesus often asked His followers questions to initiate a teaching time. Indeed, the straight lecture-type impartation of information would have been a completely foreign concept to people in Jesus' day. Jesus knew that only an active mind--one that is being stimulated by interaction and by curiosity--really learns something! Hmmm, I wonder how we got so far from this one! (Hint: our western culture is far more heavily influenced by Greek culture than by the Hebraic culture of the Bible!).
     Fifth, Jesus, of course, trained His disciples on the basis of God's word. A careful observer of Jesus' teaching will see that almost everything He said or did clearly derives from Scripture. But it's how Jesus imparted the Word of God that is most important. You see, Jesus taught God's word as the living Voice of God as the Holy Spirit directed Him. Jesus constantly heard His Father's voice as He lived His life and taught others (see John 12:49). Thus Jesus understood Scripture to be the living voice of His Abba. Think about this one, friend. Having that perspective changes everything about how we impart God's word!
     Jesus also taught the Word from a place of perfect obedience to it. Again, think about that one--one reason Jesus could teach and train with complete authority was that He lived in complete obedience to God's word. Hmmm. Living that one out might change how we make disciples a wee bit, eh?
     Finally, Jesus taught God's word from a vast treasure store of God's word in His heart and mind. Like many Jews of His day, Jesus had committed vast amounts of Scripture to memory--it appears likely that He had committed much more than even others of His day. Thus He was truly able to "meditate on it all day long" (Psalm 119:97). Hmmm. What if this an essential part of making disciples? Today we are far more likely to have the Bible in our hand (or computer or PDA or cell phone) than we are in our hearts. But I am convinced that if we are to make disciples, and train people like Jesus did, we will have to change our ways drastically. Psalm 1 says that the blessed man of God meditates on God's word day and night. If that was the expectation under the old covenant, what is the expectation for the far better covenant?
     What if God indeed wants us to train others from the place of personal obedience and true saturation with His Word and dependence upon the Spirit? Something to think about. I am quite sure that He does indeed expect that! And so I pray, "God, help us--we are so very far from this. But we cannot change ourselves! All we can do is submit to you with a totally yielded will and invite you to be ruthless but kind in transforming us!"
     Well, I am quite sure that this is enough for you to ponder this time! My sincere prayer is that you will be challenged as I am to reconsider everything about how we make disciples by taking this honest, if brief, look at how Jesus did.

Stay grace embraced,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How (really) to Make Disciples

     Okay, I am finally writing about how to make disciples the way Jesus did. First, a disclaimer: I am hardly an expert at this, so if you don't like what I write, I welcome your input! Basically I will just take a look at Scripture and attempt to describe what Jesus actually did to make disciples (I think we all know that Jesus told His followers to make disciples, right? And since He had was talking to His disciples, I think I am safe to assume that how He did it was what He had in mind!). So here goes...
     First, make sure you are really Jesus' disciple. Well, that's a bit obvious, but I didn't want to have anyone reading this assume that you can just decide to make disciples without first having been discipled into a place of maturity as a true follower of Jesus. After all, Jesus' disciplemaking was based on His intimate, obedient relationship with His Father, so we must start in the same place. (See some of my earlier posts on what it really means to be like Jesus).
     Next, do something miraculous. What???? Well, that is what Jesus did. In His first contact with Andrew and Simon Peter, He prophesied Simon's future (see John 1:40-42), and He follows that by "reading" Nathanael's heart (John 1:43-50). Furthermore, in Luke's account of the calling of Simon, Andrew, James and John, Jesus starts with a miraculous catch of fish (see Luke 5:1-11). My point is that in New Testament times, following Jesus apart from a supernatural lifestyle was unthinkable. After all, we don't get very far in the Gospels before Jesus is equipping and commissioning His disciples to heal the sick, cast out demons, etc. To be a true disciple of Jesus, then, is to start in the context of supernatural power. This theme is carried through the New Testament, isn't it? The first large ingathering of new followers of Jesus (Acts 2) occurred in the context of a huge outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And Paul describes his ministry as one that was characterized by power, deep conviction and the Holy Spirit (see 1 Thessalonians 1:5 and 1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Just something to think about :-)
     Next, pray all night before inviting people to the discipleship process. What??? Well, again, that's what Jesus did. In Luke 6:12-16 we see that He prayed all night before calling the Twelve to be those whom He would "disciple" the most. And notice as you read this passage that Jesus chose those who were already following Him as disciples. This is a hugely important discipleship principle: You can disciple only those who are truly disciples already (truly born again, truly living in obedience or at least wanting to).
     Next, heal them. What??? Again, that's apparently what Jesus did. In Luke 6:40b it says, "A disciple is not above his/her teacher, but everyone who has been restored and mended so as to be fully prepared will be like his teacher." (Tom's paraphrase). Note that I have yet to find a translation that adequately translates this passage--the word that is usually translated "fully trained" or something similar is a word that refers to the mending of nets so as to make them functional again. My point here is that inner healing and deliverance are part of the disciplemaking process--one that we dare not overlook in this era of badly broken people. I may write more on this at a later time.
     Next, hang out with them. In Mark's version of the calling of the Twelve, we read, "He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons..." (NKJV emphasis mine). This is again a hugely important principle. Disciples are made only in the context of relationship and primarily by means of modeling. Thus the idea of a "discipleship class" where information is poured into people's lives is not a biblical concept. There is only one way to make disciples and that is to live the life of a follower of Jesus in the context of close relationship. That's how Jesus did it, that's also how Paul did it. Consider how many times Paul points to himself as an example (see Acts 20:18-19, 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6 and 2:4-12 for two examples) and also encourages his readers to imitate him (see 1 Corinthians 11:1 and Philippians 3:17 for two examples). And Paul clearly expected those he discipled to do the same--he tells both Timothy and Titus to be examples to those they lead (1 Timothy 4:12, Titus 2:7).
     Well, ponder these for a while, and I will write more in a couple of weeks about the "training" aspect of discipleship. As you can imagine, it will probably be different from some of what you have read or experienced in the past! For now, ponder well what is written above, asking yourself first, "Am I a disciple of Jesus?" and secondly, "If so, have I ever really truly discipled anyone?" Happy pondering to all!

Stay lost in His love, inundated by His power...

Tom, the least of Abba's children

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Five Things God is Saying to His People

As I sat down to write this week, I realized that I have an outstanding promise to share with you five things that I believe God is saying to the Church. So here goes…
Quite some time ago, I began to notice some repeated themes in what God was saying to His people through various prophetic voices. Since these themes resonated considerably with what I have been hearing, I thought it might be good to collect these in one place. The following is my attempt to do so. I have left it in outline form to ensure that this article doesn’t get too long!
Humble Yourselves. We as God’s people need to admit that much of what we have called “church” or “mission” has been based on human effort and ability, and the results have been meager at best and tragic at worst. We need to repent and humble ourselves before God, laying aside all preconceptions and all attempts to do things in our own strength. The good news is that the Bible is filled with promises for those who to humble themselves before God and others.
For/to the humble God…
  1. Saves. 2 Samuel 22:28, Psalm 149:4, Psalm 18:27 You save the humble, but you bring down those who are proud. NCV
  2. Hears. 2 Chronicles 7:14, Daniel 10:12
  3. Guides and gives understanding. Psalm 25:9, Daniel 10:12 Then the man said to me, “Daniel, do not be afraid. Some time ago you decided to get understanding and to humble yourself before your God. Since that time God has listened to you, and I have come because of your prayers. NCV
  4. Gives joy. Isaiah 29:19
  5. Gives grace. Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5
  6. Lifts up. Luke 1:52, 1 Peter 5:6, James 4:6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” NIV
  7. Sustains. Psalm 147:6
  8. Protects their calling. Numbers 12:1-16
  9. Esteems. Isaiah 66:2b “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” NIV
B. Humility is not listed as a fruit of the Spirit! Why? Because it’s an action on our part.
  1. We humble ourselves before God. 2 Chronicles 7:14; James 4:10, I Peter 5:5-6. Note that worship by definition requires us to humble ourselves before God (one of the main words for worship in Hebrew is to bow down—prostrate ourselves!).
  2. We humble ourselves before others Luke 22:24-27, Philippians 2:1-11.
Draw Near to Me. I am sure that no one who reads this blog is surprised by this one. God is calling His people back into intimacy with Him.
We were Created for intimacy.
Romans 8:14-16 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Ephesians 2:13 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
So God says to us, “Draw near!”
James 4:8a Come near to God, and He will come near to you…”Jeremiah 29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Psalm 63:1-5 1 O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. 2 I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory. 3 Your unfailing love is better to me than life itself; how I praise you! 4 I will honor you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. 5 You satisfy me more than the richest of foods. I will praise you with songs of joy.Psalm 143:6 I reach out for you. I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain.Psalm 4:7 You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.
Psalm 34:8
Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Get Close to One Another. We can no longer be content with talking about unity or pretending that we are living in real community when our relationships are so dysfunctional and unhealthy!
Unity is already ours—now we must make the effort to restore it and then live in it!
Ephesians 4:1-3 1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Unity marks us as His people
John 13:34-35 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 17:20-21 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Be Cleansed. Does the phrase “pure and spotless Bride” mean anything to you? Yet look at the Church as we know it. “Pure and spotless” or “set apart to God” may not be the first thoughts that come to our mind!
Holiness is clearly required!
Psalm 24:3-4 3 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. 1 Peter 1:15-16 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 2 Timothy 2:20-21 NKJV20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. 21 Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.
But He does most of the cleaning. God is saying, “Let me clean you up!” not “Clean yourselves us by your own efforts.” His cleaning is much more thorough than ours is!
Romans 7:4-6 4 In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.5 While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.6 But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit. (NRSV)Romans 8:12-13 12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.(NRSV)
Get Ready. I believe that those who are predicting a huge ingathering of people into the Kingdom are right. And from the place of intimacy and community, we are God’s people are being prepared to be spiritual fathers and mothers to millions (who will be fathered and mothered a few at a time). We are also being prepared to move powerfully in the supernatural realm because this generation will not be reached by a “mental” gospel!
Get ready for the Harvest! Jesus never said to pray for the harvest to be there. He said to open our eyes and to pray for God to thrust workers into the harvest!
John 4:35-38 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” Matthew 9:35-10:1 35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” 1 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
The Five Things Defined in Paradigm Shifts
  1. From driven, controlling self-reliance to absolute surrender.
  2. From program and purpose driven to “presence drawn.”
  3. From fragmentation and “pretend unity” to genuine, functional unity.
  4. From terrible compromise and pollution to a fiery cleansing by the Spirit of God!
  5. From “come join our club” to “how can we love, serve and heal you?”
The scriptures are from The New International Version of the Bible unless otherwise indicated.
Hope this stirs up something in you!
Tom, the least of Abba’s children

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Straightening Out Twisted Desires--Korah's Legacy

Hmmm, I had planned to write on how to make disciples the way Jesus made them this week, but I feel strongly impressed to share instead an article I wrote a while back. If this article is posted for you, please let me know. (I will do the making disciples thing next time, I think!).
Many of you probably share my love for Psalm 42 and Psalm 84. Lots of God’s people love these psalms, and some beautiful contemporary worship songs are based on these psalms. The first verses of these psalms reveal why we love them so much: Psalm 42 reads “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” and Psalm 84 reads “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” It is the passionate longing for God, the tender intimacy with Him, the clear experience of His presence, the pure and overpowering desire for God and God alone that appeals to us in these psalms, isn’t it?

Because of the passionate desire for God in these psalms, many people assume that David wrote them, but he didn’t! These psalms (and several others that many of us love) were written by men who were musicians and gatekeepers in “the house of the Lord” (in this case the tent that David prepared for Ark of the Covenant). They were men who were influenced and led by David, but their passion for God was their own!

Not too long ago, God began to show me that not only did these men write some of our favorite psalms (Psalms 42-49 and 84, 85, 87-88), their story also represents one of the most remarkable demonstrations of God’s power to redeem and transform found in the Bible. You see, these men, known as the “sons of Korah,” were descendants of the Korah who led a huge rebellion against Moses in the days of the wilderness wanderings. Because of its redemptive promise, the story of Korah and his descendants is encouraging to anyone who hears it. God took the twisted desires of Korah and purified them into the beauty we see in Psalms 42 and 84. What do I mean? I have shared parts of this with a few of you, but let me unfold this amazing story for all.The narrative of Korah’s rebellion is found in Numbers 16, and it’s an account that should put a healthy fear of God and respect for His leaders in all who read it! (I recommend that you read the story in your Bible before continuing this article.) Korah, a Levite, and two leaders from the tribe of Reuben (Dathan and Abiram) brought 250 other leaders with them to confront Moses and Aaron, challenging and essentially rejecting Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership. They said (v. 3), “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?” Moses, of course, went before the Lord and then invited these men to present themselves before the Lord with incense the next day to see whom the Lord would choose to bring near to Him. If you read the story as I suggested, you know that it didn’t end well for these rebellious men or their families! Verses 28-35 recount what happened:

28 Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt.”
31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. 34 At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!”
35 And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.

At this point, you may be wondering how this story could possibly have a positive outcome, and I can’t blame you. But God has a wonderful way of giving hope and bringing change when things seem impossible. Here’s how He did that in this case.

First, Korah’s line was not entirely destroyed by God’s judgment during the rebellion. Numbers 26:11 says, “The line of Korah, however, did not die out.” Indeed, the line of Korah later produced some of the greatest and most significant leaders in the history of God’s people. In addition to the musicians we meet in the Psalms, the great leader/prophet Samuel was also a descendant of Korah! And Samuel’s grandson, Heman, apparently was not only a musician and gatekeeper (one of the “sons of Korah”), but also a prophet himself. He is called the king’s seer and was greatly blessed by the Lord (see 1 Chronicles 25:5). Heman’s destiny is in itself a wonderful story of redemption because his father, Joel, son of Samuel, was not at all a godly man (see 1 Samuel 8:1-3, a very sad story, but Heman redeemed the family heritage!).

Now, view the original story with me and see if you also see what I saw. Korah’s rebellion grew out of two strong desires: the desire to be a leader of the people of God and the desire to lead all of God’s people into God’s presence. Do you see what I see? These desires are not bad desires. Indeed, the second desire (expressed in the words, “the whole community is holy”) was actually God’s plan all along and has now been fulfilled in us! Furthermore, these two desires were fulfilled in a healthy way by Korah’s descendants! Samuel lived in the presence of the Lord and was one of Israel’s greatest leaders and prophets. It was even Samuel’s privilege to anoint David as King of Israel, the ancestor of Jesus the Messiah! And Heman and the other “sons of Korah” not only the led the people of God into His presence through worship and prophecy, they themselves clearly enjoyed encounters with God’s presence that left them continually hungry for God!

There are all kinds of wonderful lessons to be found here. First, consider why Korah’s desires became twisted and led to his death and the destruction of many other people: PRIDE! Korah had desires that may have started out good, but his prideful refusal to submit to God’s plan, timing and leaders, ended up twisting those desires to the extent that they led to his destruction. His descendants, on the other hand, walked in humility before God and apparently learned to seek God alone, not what God could give them. Pride twisted Korah’s desire; humility allowed God to redeem it in his descendants. Big thought here, eh? Even good desires must be submitted to God and made subject to His timing and control, lest they be twisted by pride. And I believe that the real key to having pure desires is to have all desires grow out of an overwhelming desire for God alone!

But there are other encouraging lessons to be had here. Consider some other applications to your life. First, because of God’s amazing love and power to redeem things, your past doesn’t ever have to hinder God’s plan for you! Your ancestry need not determine your destiny with the Lord Jesus! Second, even a less-than-perfect past (or set of ancestors) may hold at least some of the seeds of your future. Perhaps even in the worst of histories you will discover something that can be redeemed. I will let you ponder that one for yourself. Third, some of our godly desires may not be ours to fulfill, but if we will be good parents in both the literal and spiritual sense, those desires may be lived out by our “descendants.” Many of us have already seen evidence of this either through our biological children or our spiritual children (or both!). In fact, many of my “spiritual children” are already going beyond anything I could have imagined for myself!

Our other favorite Psalmist, David, had the privilege of living out these lessons himself! David’s passionate love for God gave birth to his desire to build a temple for God. But God told David it was not for him to build a temple but for his descendant. David could have been prideful and pressed on ahead with his desire, but instead he submitted to God’s timing. As a result, not only did the world see the marvel of Solomon’s Temple but of the even greater Temple that David’s greatest descendant is building, the temple that Jesus is building not with stones but with people—wow! We would do well, then, to consider what David had to say about desires in another favorite psalm. I close this article with Psalm 37:3-11. I am sure you will see the connection!

3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9 For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.
11 But the meek (humble!) will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.

I hope this blesses someone out there!

Stay lost in His love,

Tom, the least of Abba's children

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

I try to recommend only the very best of the best in terms of books to read. Three books that I think every believer should read are The Shack by Paul Young (mentioned recently), Dialogue with God by Mark and Patti Virkler, and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. I can't emphasize enough the potential for transformation that is contained in this last book.

Pete Scazzero does a masterful job of blending principles that lead to genuine emotional health with the disciplines of contemplative spirituality in a way that can literally change your life even if you have been stuck for years and years. Let me quote from the cover of the book. "The Christian faith is supposed to produce deep, positive change, isn't it? So why doesn't it seem to work in real life? This question screamed at Pastor Peter Scazzero when his church and marriage hit bottom and every 'Christian' remedy he tried produced nothing but more anger and fatigue. As he began digging under the 'good Christian' veneer, he discovered emotional layers of his life that God had not touched--layers he had carefully tried to conceal from everyone. The resulting emotional immaturity had left him spiritually immature--and it nearly cost him everything. But for Scazzero, finally realizing the critical link between emotional and spiritual health turned the failure of his dreams into the beginning of a journey that would forever change him, his church and his relationships."

Okay, so I know that every Christian book claims to be life-transforming! But this one really is. Get this book, read it and then let me know what you think. I don't believe you can read this book with an open heart and mind and not be changed.

And now, on another note, I ran across the following as I was cleaning out some files. Call it "Reflections on Brokenness." These are all from my "Secret Place" Journal.

From December 25, 2006

Ah, Father, as I look at your face, I see how your love is indeed steadfast and constant. It is your most powerful weapon, pushing inexorably into every crevice of our lives and hearts. And it will always pursue, always reach. But it only reaches into the hearts of the broken, the humble, the soft. If we are broken, the oil of your love can seep down into the cracks. If we are soft, the oil makes a softer still, seeping down into the pores of our lives as lanolin does into leather.

Ah, Father! Brokenness seems inescapable! Second Corinthians 4:10-12 drills me with its clarity and inclusiveness. Paul's "we" here seems to include every believer, and to the degree that we can embrace "dying," to that degree we are life-bearers: "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed (manifested) in our body. For we who are alive or always been given over to death for Jesus sake (through, because of Jesus), so let his life may be revealed (manifested) in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life isn't working you." -- And all this is possible only because of what we find in the context on both sides of these verses: gazing upon your glory; and eschewing any confidence and self; renouncing shameful, and deceitful ways; incomparably great power in us; faith; daily inner renewal; eternal, unseen perspective.

And how do we live like this? Part of the answer is below from a word to me on January 16, 2007.

"Yes, little one, to whatever extent you choose to trust in your own ability or understanding, to that extent my work, my power is diminished. You cannot force anything, you can only follow. That is why Finney, Wigglesworth, and others would minister -- indeed live life -- only when they knew that my anointing was fully upon them."

May we all find the journey into emotionally healthy brokenness!

Tom, the least of Abba's children.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Simple Church--One Stream of Several

I thought that I would actually write about simple church this week! Actually, I am writing about simple church as part of a larger picture that I know many of you also see and which I wrote about in my very first post back in February.

What triggered my return to musing about simple church? Several things. First, I recently read a book that addresses with wonderful clarity and creativity issues such as intimacy with God, what the real church looks like, etc. The book is called The Shack, and Eugene Peterson suggests that this book may become the Pilgrim's Progress of our generation. And although I have a few reservations about some of the theology (on page 136 the author has God saying that cancer is "good" for some people--something I don't buy for a moment but understand why he says it in the context), I do recommend that you read it and wrestle with it (it will definitely stretch you!). You can order pre-release copies at the author's website www.theshackbook. com.
The second thing that triggered my musings is that I started a simple church (designed ultimately to train and release several simple church leaders). As we have started to grow together as a group and have started hearing one another's stories, it has become obvious that God has brought us together around more than just meeting in a home or doing church in a simpler, more participatory format. Again, the same themes that I have been discerning for quite some time are arising again: intimacy, simplicity, supernatural ministry, ministry in the marketplace, a fresh wave of emphasis upon inner healing and deliverance, etc. Hmmm, I think God might be saying something right now...!
The third thing that triggered my musing was a picture that the Lord gave to me during my time with Him this morning. I saw a river delta with many streams flowing out of one large river that was coming out of some mountains far away. The delta ended in a dead lake, like the Dead Sea. People were moving out from the dead lake upstream on the various streams to green areas where the water was good and there was life, not death. Many of them stopped along the way and camped not too far along the streams, far from the source which was much higher up. It seemed that many of the people camped once the conditions improved enough for them to survive. This did not seem to be what was intended for them, though, and some people pressed on farther and higher to where the water was purer and "wilder" and the air cleaner, where everything got better and better. As I looked at main river, I could see that as far as my vision extended upstream whatever I saw became "more and better." I also saw that some who camped along one of the streams actually built tall, white edifices. I am thinking that perhaps they have built these edifices to heal the people who are on the journey before they continue on upstream. But I fear that some of them have built these edifices because they did not see what was farther up -- they could not see that their stream was only one part of a much larger picture.

Now here's my interpretation of what I saw. I think that this picture represents what God is doing in the church, and simple church, the return to intimacy, the restoration of the supernatural, the restoration of marketplace ministry, etc. each represent only parts of what God is up to right now. And although some people may indeed be called to camp along the way in order to heal folks on the journey to farther in and higher up, God's desire is for most to continue on upstream where the smaller streams merge into His larger purposes. I also believe there are also some of us, hopefully many of us, who are called to keep on climbing higher without stopping and from that perspective to encourage and admonish others to continue on the journey and not settle for just one small stream when a River is flowing farther along. Just a thought!

Before I saw the picture this morning, the Lord said to me, "I am challenging all of my children to ask me to close the gap between my Word and your experience. Let the tension between Word and experience call you to faith, to ruthless inquiry. Remember, child, that I told you more than once that everything that can be shaken will be shaken, and that includes your theology and paradigms. But don't ever be afraid, beloved son, because you will know in ‘your knower’ that it is I! The best is yet far ahead of you, but you are right on track." So what do you think? Is there more than one stream? Are we all supposed to be careful not to settle along the lower places? I wonder...

Stay lost in His love,

Tom, the least of Abba's children

p.s. Let me know what you think of The Shack!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Removing Some Common Obstacles to Healing

I promised last week to write up some of the lessons we learned as we prayed for people for healing in Brazil. Please note that I write as a novice in all this; there is much that is still a mystery to me (and mystery will always be a part of our walk with God, of course). But there were five things that seemed to pop up a lot as we prayed for people which once addressed allowed God's healing touch to flow into people's lives. I want to share these briefly in the event that they may prove useful to you. I will list the five obstacles and then turn them around into positive things we can encourage people with as we pray for them.

The five hindrances we saw were 1) unforgiveness; 2) hidden, unconfessed sin; 3) idolatry (trust in something other than God or unrenounced allegiance to other entities); 4) curses put upon the person by someone else or even themselves; 5) unbelief (failing to recognize God's goodness). Now let's turn these into positive steps for receiving healing. I will put these in the second person because I am quite certain that some of them may apply to you :-)

First, forgive everyone you can think of--anyone who has ever hurt you. The Bible is quite clear that failure to forgive others hinders the flow of God's forgiveness to us (see, for example, Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-35, Mark 11:25 and others) and surely this means that other things from God will be hindered as well. But many people have been hurt deeply and repeatedly by others and find it difficult to forgive. What do we say to people, for example, who were repeatedly abused physically and/or sexually as children? What I have discovered is that for severely hurt people, explaining that forgiveness is a process that can start now but will continue for as long as necessary helps them to see their first decision to forgive as just a first small step in a journey that God will faithfully take them on. Another huge help that I used often in Brazil was simply to pray for the person, asking God to heal their broken heart enough for them to start the forgiveness process. Time and again when I did this with someone, the Holy Spirit would come upon them, they would start weeping profusely and then reach a point of release where they were indeed able to forgive. This should not surprise us, of course, since Jesus will indeed always supply what we need to obey Him, so if He tells us to forgive others, He will enable us to forgive others.
Also in the area of forgiveness, be sure to include forgiveness for self. Anyone who hasn't forgiven him/herself for something can't possibly feel worthy of receiving any blessing from the Lord.
Try this, folks! It works. I cannot recount how many folks received physical healing or deep inner healing and deliverance after forgiving those in their lives who had hurt them.

Second, bring out into the light any unconfessed sin. Again, scripture speaks of this with clarity; see James 5:14-16. I have pondered this much--why do we need to confess our sins in order to be healed? Aren't we forgiven already? Yes, of course Jesus died for all of our sins, and they are all covered by His sacrifice (even the ones you haven't committed yet!). But when we fail to bring our sins out into the light they have a way of eating away at our faith for healing. Hidden stuff seems to cause a general sense of unworthiness to hang over people. And my experience with most folks is that, at least in the North American church, we don't really confess our sins at all--not even to God (as mentioned in 1 John 1:9). Thus we have this hidden backlog of guilt and shame that needs to be brought out into the light.
Again, try this! Especially in the area of inner healing and deliverance, and even for physical healing, we found that many people were healed once things were brought out into the light through confession.

Third, renounce any allegiances to "other gods." In Brazil this often meant having people renounce past involvement in various forms of witchcraft or the occult either personally or by a family member. Even in the US renouncing occult involvement is becoming increasingly necessary (I am sure you know this!). And beyond that, Paul even defines greed as idolatry (Ephesians 5:5), so I encourage folks to renounce anything that they have put their confidence in besides God (hmm, what am I really trusting in????). In this area especially, I encourage you to ask God for discernment when praying for people. Many times people don't know that great grandpa was a Freemason or that grandma used to dabble in the occult, etc., but the Holy Spirit knows and will reveal these facts as we listen to Him!
Again, untold numbers of times, healing came only when people renounced ties and allegiances with the occult, with witchcraft, etc.

Fourth, break any curses that others or even you yourself have placed upon you. In Brazil, many times we had to trust the Holy Spirit to reveal curses put upon someone by a relative, an enemy, etc. It is no different anywhere else. Even in the US, although witchcraft type curses may not be as common, I have discovered that many people were cursed repeatedly by words spoken over them (for example: "You are always sick!" "You are so worthless!" "You won't ever amount to anything!" etc.). Curses, regardless of their origin or type, do hinder the flow of God's healing (inner and physical), but they are easily dealt with. I wrote about one example of this in my longer Brazil report. My partner and I were getting nowhere in praying with a lady until she remembered that her husband's mother was a witch. Once she revealed that, we broke any curses off of her in Jesus' name, and she was very powerfully touched by God.

Finally, ask God to reveal His goodness to you! Most unbelief boils down to us not trusting in the love, kindness and goodness of God. And since someone's faith, at least, is required for God to release His gifts, it's important for us to eliminate unbelief by asking for a increasing revelation of the wonderfully blessing character of God. To the extent that a person is convinced that God truly is loving and totally good, to that extent that person will trust God for healing. If there's any doubt that God wants to bless, wants to heal, wants to reveal His goodness, then healing is usually hindered. Note, too, that this unbelief may not be on the part of the person receiving prayer. If the one praying is not totally convinced of God's goodness and God is requiring faith from the one praying (which He does!) then how will healing happen? Now here's the good news: God won't require more faith from you than you currently have, whether you are the one praying or the one being prayed for. And I have discovered that we can literally pray as I have suggested: "God reveal more of your goodness; Holy Spirit pour your love into his/her heart!" God always seems eager to answer that kind of prayer, and as He does, faith for healing rises to meet God's goodness and healing occurs.

Obviously, I could write much more about this (which in fact, I am doing), but my prayer is that this will be a good start for you in seeing some common hindrances to healing being removed from your life and from the lives of those you pray for. Let us hear from you, please, as to your experiences once you put these into practice--I know we will hear many good reports!

Until next time, stay lost in His love,

Tom, Abba's least child